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Ecumen, MnSCU to partner on rural senior care

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL — Rural Minnesota is acutely impacted by the collision of a rapidly aging population and a shortage of nurses in senior care. Ecumen, a non-profit senior housing and services organization that operates in many rural Minnesota communities, and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will collaborate to help address that problem through a new workforce development initiative called Ecumen Scholars.

The effort is being coordinated by HealthForce Minnesota, MnSCU’s Center of Excellence in healthcare, and is supported by a $1.9 million grant awarded to Ecumen by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation.

Over two years, Ecumen Scholars will provide a variety of educational, vocational and financial opportunities for nursing students at MnSCU colleges and universities to pursue careers in rural senior health. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 15 percent of rural Minnesota residents are age 65 or older, and some counties have a population comprised of 20 to 25 percent seniors. At a time when demand for senior care is increasing, rural Minnesota’s nursing workforce is shrinking as more nurses retire and fewer nurses replace them.

“The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation’s support allows us to take a creative approach for connecting students and recent graduates in our state with an extremely rewarding career opportunity and further learn how we can best fill the rural employment gap in senior services,” said Ecumen President and CEO Kathryn Roberts. “At Ecumen, we find many of our best people were influenced early on by working with older adults and having a great mentoring experience. This initiative combines those two important elements to attract our state’s students to this critically important work.”

“Our collaboration with Ecumen is a powerful example of how a creative partnership can help meet an urgent need in Minnesota’s workforce,” said Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. “Ecumen Scholars will have an in-depth clinical experience and the opportunity to live and work in rural Minnesota. We are very pleased to be partnering with Ecumen to educate and train more Minnesotans in a field that is critical to the health and well-being of our seniors.”

Ecumen Scholars will work with seniors at a variety of care levels and settings including transitional care or rehabilitation, assisted living, dementia care and home care. Key components of the Ecumen Scholar program include:

  • Gerontological Clinical Rotations: Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, clinical rotations will be established at Ecumen sites near MnSCU campuses. Clinical locations will include Worthington, Mankato, Litchfield, Hutchinson, Alexandria, Detroit Lakes, Moorhead and Two Harbors.
  • Summer Nursing Leadership Fellowships: Beginning in 2015, students in nursing programs at MnSCU universities will be able to apply for up to eight summer Ecumen Nursing Leadership Fellowships. Each Fellow will receive a $3,000 summer living stipend and will work closely with a Director of Nursing at an Ecumen location for 120 hours, gaining valuable insights into clinical management and leadership, and education on Ecumen Awakenings, which is Ecumen’s integrated care program to improve Alz-heimer’s care and life quality by reducing psychotropic medications.
  • School-Work Opportunities: Nursing students at MnSCU colleges and universities will be notified of open positions at the Ecumen Scholar sites, which will help them launch careers while attending school and transition to full-time employment upon graduation.
  • Financial Bonus Payments: Ecumen Scholars who graduate from nursing programs at MnSCU colleges and universities and are hired within one year at rural Ecumen locations will be eligible for financial bonus payments at the one-year, three-year, five-year and ten-year anniversaries of their start date. These bonus payments can be used to repay student loans, and the bonus amounts will increase with each subsequent anniversary.
  • Summer Scrubs Camp: In 2015, Ecumen employees and residents at Ecumen Scholar sites will have the opportunity to send their high school children free-of-charge to summer Scrubs Camp, which is co-sponsored by MnSCU and HealthForce Minnesota. Scrubs Camp is a five-day camp held at Winona State University, Augsburg College and Saint Paul College dedicated to introducing high school students to the health care field. Up to 35 children will have their $450 tuition covered by an Ecumen Scholars scholarship. This component of Ecumen Scholars grew out of the fact that children with parents in the health care field or exposed to the care relatives receive are more likely to enter the field themselves.

Jody Bloemke, a resident of Mankato and a MnSCU alumna, has been hired to manage Ecumen Scholars. She has extensive experience in communications, marketing, recruitment, rural issues and public outreach. In her role as Special Program Manager at Ecumen, she will work closely with HealthForce Minnesota.

Bloemke previously served as Healthcare Workforce Placement Coordinator at South Central College in North Mankato. She also served as an administrator for the AgStar Fund for Rural America and managed AgStar’s community involvement program of 600 employee volunteers.

Ecumen is one of the nation’s top 20 largest non-profit providers of senior housing and services. Based in Shoreview, Ecumen operates in 38 cities in Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Idaho and Tennessee.

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